The symbol of Democrats’ resistance and the controversies

Democrats wearing Kente cloth while kneeling for George Floyd

Democrats wearing Kente cloth while kneeling for George Floyd (The Star)

By Peter Jaegeul Song
Staff Reporter at The Asia N

SEOUL: On Monday, June 8, a few dozen Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, tried to honor George Floyd’s memory by kneeling in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; they were all wearing kente cloth stoles.

Kente cloth-woven with vibrant stripes of silk and cotton-comes from Ghana, where people wear it to show patriotism or celebrate a special occasion. It is associated with royalty, pride, and black identity. Congressional Democrats wore Ghanaian textiles as they urged President Donald Trump to back measures aimed at strengthening accountability in law enforcement and squashing racial profiling.

While Kente cloth was the product of a global trade route from Asia through Europe to Africa, this cloth and the people were also associated with another global trade route — slave trade.

According to the institution The Ultimate History Project, the history of the Ashanti people, who lived on the West Coast of Africa, is strongly linked to the history of slave trade. As was the case with many pre-modern societies in Africa, Asia and Europe, the Ashanti practiced slavery. When the Europeans, in particular the Portuguese, came into contact with the Ashanti during the 16th century, the Europeans and the Ashanti traded in gold, ivory and slaves.

Ashanti slaves have been transported to the New World in large numbers. There, they created new communities that often adapted and/or perpetuated the traditions of the old world.

Today, for example, the Maroon people of Suriname weave a cotton cloth called Pangi that is comparable in style and design to the Kente cloth of their Ashanti ancestors. As is the case with Kente cloth, Pangi has multi-colored vertical and horizontal stripes.

Kente’s cloth is now used to make clothes for all kinds of people, not just royalty, or the Ashanti. Clothes have become particularly popular among tourists who often buy Kente-inspired bags and shoes while visiting Ghana. Kente’s cloth fabric has also become popular internationally, as celebrities such as Gwen Stefani, Solange Knowles and the Salt-N-Pepa hip hop group have all embraced it.

Meanwhile, criticism has been mounting against U.S. Democrats for using the long-standing African traditional dress for political purposes. As reported by CNN and other mainstream US Media, some of the celebrities have openly criticised such performance of Democrats.

Doreen St. Félix, in an essay for the New Yorker, frankly expressed that she found it “akin to historical images of white political leaders preening in the exotic ‘garb’ of people living in countries they are exploiting. Inadvertently, the cloth emphasized the sense that black Americans are foreign in their own land.”

She continued by saying “it signalled Afrocentricity, yes, but also, more crucially for Democratic leaders, a political consensus. This myth of the black monolith is essential to the tenets of the modern Democratic Party. Internal divisions within the race are not tolerated; they must be drowned out with bright colors. That is why we so often refer to a bloc called the ‘black community.”

Travor Noah, The Daily Show host, also roasted Nancy Pelosi and Dems for the Kente Cloth Fiasco.

“OK, I understand the symbolic gesture of kneeling to remember George Floyd. What I don’t understand is why they had to dress like extras from Coming to America 2. In fact, a lot of people were confused about why the Democrats wore an African cloth to talk about George Floyd and police brutality. It felt like they were trying too hard,” said Noah.

“And look,” he continued, “however much you want to blame Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for doing this, we also have to assign some of the blame to the African store owner who knew full well that no good can come from one person buying 50 kente cloths.”

Faced with such criticism, the U.S. Democratic Party’s political strategy is not sure how it will unfold in the future, but what is clear is that ignorance of history could cause a great deal of damage. Politicians should learn and keep the basics first to achieve great things. This is the truth of the times for both Democrats and Republicans.

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